Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Recently my partner sprang a new bid on me and caught me flat-footed. With no one vulnerable at teams I held ♠ J-4,  Q-6-5-2,  Q-7-5 3, ♣ K-J-2, and passed over my RHO's one club. My LHO bid one spade. Now after a two club call to my right, the auction was passed around to my partner, who came back to life with two spades. Is this call natural or a cue-bid, and what range this show?

Table Presents, Vancouver, Wash.

Two spades is a natural call (partner would double one spade or two clubs for takeout with the red suits). I expect him to hold around an opening bid with five spades, and I think you are not quite worth a move forward. So you should pass, but if you did bid (make the diamond queen the ace), a natural and invitational two no-trump would fit the bill.

I dealt and passed vulnerable with ♠ K-10-6-4-3,  K-J-9-2,  —, ♣ K-10-3-2, and heard my partner open two no-trump. When I bid Stayman (do you agree?), he responded three spades, and I'm not sure what to do next. We stumbled into the making spade slam, but can you suggest how this auction should have gone?

Sticky Fingers, Albuquerque, N.M.

After the three-spade response, four of a minor and four no-trump are natural calls. Four hearts should be subverted to a slam-try in spades — nothing to do with hearts. Now a subsequent four-no-trump call is Blackwood. Immediate new-suit jumps are shortage agreeing partner's major. None of these approaches really fit your hand — but might a jump to six hearts over three spades, show a void looking for seven spades? Warning — don't try this at home!

What is the right rebid after opening one diamond and hearing partner respond one spade when holding: ♠ J,  K-Q-9-5,  K-Q-7-5, ♣ Q-J-8-3?

Lagging Behind, Pierre, S.D.

If you raise one spade to two frequently with three trumps and a semibalanced hand, then bidding one no-trump with a singleton may be acceptable, my choice. If your one-no-trump rebid normally promises a balanced hand, you have to bid two clubs now — not two hearts, which shows an ace more than you hold. The two-club response should still let you find hearts if partner is strong — a fourth suit bid from him will let you raise hearts.

My question relates to the right way to respond to a forcing jump-shift with three trumps and a balanced hand. I had ♠ 10-4-3,  A-4,  K-Q-6-5, ♣ K-J-6-3. I opened one diamond, and my partner responded two spades. I bid two no-trump before raising spades, but my partner did not believe I had three trumps to do that. What do you think?

Fatal Delay, Perryville, Mo.

You are right and your partner wrong here. With a balanced minimum and guards in all suits, you want to make the natural and limiting rebid, rather than raise spades and find partner hoping that you have extras.

My partner, in first seat, opened one diamond and I held ♠ Q-7-4-2,  A-J-2,  A-10-9, ♣ A-J-2. With a stopper in every suit, I jumped to three no-trump to show my values. There was no catastrophe in that we made 11 tricks. But I was soundly criticized for not bidding my four-card major. Do you agree?

Paint your Wagon, Youngstown, Ohio

Your choice was reasonable; but you could have missed slam facing a minimum unbalanced hand with spades and diamonds (and on a bad day, three no-trump would also fail!). The same applies if you find yourself facing a singleton spade and long diamonds. Basically, you took a risk with very little upside, since by pre-empting your side unnecessarily, you make the exchange of information somewhat harder.

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgSeptember 14th, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Good morning Mr. Wolff,
Have just recently noticed that the ACBL’s scoring program (ACBLSCORE) provides a few options for scoring a Duplicate Pairs game by IMPs rather than the conventional Matchpoints. One scheme is to temporarily throw out the top and bottom scores on a Board, compute a datum from the remaining scores, and then score the Board by awarding IMPs (plusses and minuses) based upon differences from that datum.
Clearly, as compared to Matchpoints, this would deemphasize, for example, precise part-score bidding and excellent card play, and place more emphasis on finding games and slams. As an exercise I re-scored a recent game that way. One pair jumped from fifth to second in large part because they were one of only two pairs to reach a making slam.
I am tentatively considering trying this out on an occasional Club game, to see how the players react and like / dislike it.
What are your thoughts on this? Does it have some merit, or is it a silly idea?

Iain ClimieSeptember 14th, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I think this is Butler scoring, and it is closer to “real” bridge in that making or beating contracts, and not conceding the odd large minus (-730 is one of my pets) becomes much more important. It can also help introduce people who’ve only played pairs to IMPs without subjecting them to being trounced in a 24 bd match. I’ve done this on occasion and would heartily recommend it. I suspect our host regards IMPs as better than pairs too (based on some posts) but we’ll see.



ClarksburgSeptember 14th, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Hi Iain,
Thanks. Yes I had found, on-line, a reference to this particular scheme as “Butler”. Your hearty recommendation is appreciated.
Yes it had occurred to me that although going recklessly for a big number would be throwing a big IMP gift to one opponent, it would likely take the reckless pair” out of the running!

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2014 at 12:49 am

Hi Clarksburg & Iain,

Yes, IMP pairs is a sometime tournament, always held at ACBL Nationals and occasionally at Regionals.

It, of course emphasizes the IMP game which in short, can be wisely described as depending on amount of gain rather than frequency of gain.

For an illustration, a game swing (making instead of down) will usually be either 11 or 13 IMPs swung (depending on vulnerability) while part score swings usually average about (5-7) each, emphasizing about a 2 to 1 difference in importance.

A missed slam, bid at others, can also be around 13 vulnerable and 11 not, with the amount going to the pair who gets it right.

No doubt IMPs is a much closer gauge of what the original game of rubber bridge is all about, good bidding and insuring one’s contract rather than taking risks at pairs for only an extra overtrick or undertrick where a small difference in score (20 or 30) brings a relatively enormous difference in matchpoints.

Iain is right, I consider IMPs a better game, but always understand that the two games are so different (because of strategy) that it is very necessary to gain experience in both before one fully understands how to play them to best advantage.

As far as the name (Butler) is described, that term used to refer to a European invention where boards (hands) were scored (usually with teams (4 players), instead of pairs (2) at both a combination of IMPs and board-a-match, which complicates the strategy, but gives the participants much to consider in both the bidding and the play.

Perhaps Butler has now been changed to become only an IMP pair, but, if so, no one has informed me of the change, although I haven’t played in what was to me a Butler in perhaps 30 years and, of course, only when I was visiting in Europe, back then, quite frequently.

Yes, Clarksburg, by all means, slip in an IMP game (I guess, now called Butler) on your regular group, if for no other reason than variety, since many will find it more enjoyable and, at least to me, take away some of the luck* element more present at matchpoint scoring.

* 1. the luck of the opening lead sometimes leads to overtricks or not.

2. Playing a 5-2 major suit fit sometimes produces +140 (9 tricks) while on the same hand a safer 5-4 minor suit fit will make one extra trick (10), but still only score +130.

3. If an 8 card fit in a major (at IMPs usually preferred) scores up game (10 tricks) too often an aggressive lead against NT will allow the same number of tricks to be scored, resulting with the declarer being awarded many more matchpoints than the norm, but in reality, not playing good bridge, only taking advantage of the small difference (only 10 points) which is often described as a bastardized part of the game.

However, do not let me adversely influence you against matchpoints, since almost all bridge tournaments (except KO teams) feature it, making it ever popular, exciting and very competitive.

jim2September 15th, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I know this is late, but I wanted to confer with one of my partners before commenting on the second hand in the column.

We would not play four heart bids as artificial in the noted sequence. Instead, we would probably bid 5D over 3S showing a diamond control and confirming spades in a slam try.

Was the suggestion of bidding six HEARTS a misprint? That is, did you mean 6 DIAMONDS?

bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2014 at 4:50 am

Hi Jim2,

No, we actually meant 6 hearts as agreeing spades, showing a heart void (we hope) and of course, the logic then of being a grand slam try in spades, with partner knowing we are void in hearts.

Perhaps wishful thinking, but nevertheless a live possibility. BTW it is now a well accepted treatment that while playing transfers and Stayman over 2NT once Stayman is bid and partner has responded either 3 hearts or 3 spades (showing at least 4 of whatever he bid) a then bid of 3 spades over 3 hearts or 4 hearts over 3 spades is a big raise of partner’s suit inviting slam.

This method is logical since anytime a 5 card major is held transfers are called for, so the natural meaning of the unbid major would show 5, but that is theoretically impossible so that bid can and, I think, should show the very good hand in support of partner.

Of course, the 2nd letter to which you refer may instead have started out with a transfer to spades and then perhaps exclusion BW should be used over partner’s acceptance which asks partner to name how many aces he has, excluding the ace of hearts.

Certainly not perfect as other features are very important also, so all bids have flaws so let the guessing begin between 6 or 7 spades.

Obviously it would also be nice to show the minors also in case partner has the dreaded doubleton spade, but good support for one minor or the other.

However, only the very best world class bridge partnerships have worked out an intricate system which to them is what they settle on and I, unfortunately, do not have a current partnership which fits the bill (perhaps in several different ways).

When no great discussion has preceded dealing with a hand like the one we are discussing, only intelligent and somewhat logical action should be taken, rather than hope for more than is likely to be delivered.

Aren’t you glad you brought it up?

jim2September 16th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

But, but but … the provided hand was NOT void in hearts!

It was void in DIAMONDS!

That’s why I thought the six hearts call was mis-written.

Here is copy-paste:

I dealt and passed vulnerable with ♠ K-10-6-4-3, ♥ K-J-9-2, ♦ —, ♣ K-10-3-2, and heard my partner open two no-trump. When I bid Stayman (do you agree?), he responded three spades, and I’m not sure what to do next. We stumbled into the making spade slam, but can you suggest how this auction should have gone?